Take a wild guess of how big the Chinese music industry was in terms of downloads, streaming, and physical forms – with the US being at $6-7 Billion today.
Just 2 years ago in 2015, this figure was $150 million dollars for the entire China, that’s 1/40 of the US. Never before had piracy decimated an industry so much and for so long – throughout the entire 1st 15 years of the 21st century, Being an aspiring singer in China was synonymous to being broke -- a sad state of affairs – and there was no way of earning a living making songs. Many talents starved chasing a dream pulverized by piracy, and for years the joint selfishness of the public and a busy government turned their blind eyes to this issue – and it’s in those days that music died.
Luckily for all of the young Bob Dylans in China, their world was turned upside down for the better at end of 2014 – almost overnight, the government and the tech giants of China alike cracked down on music piracy like nothing before – and this industry went from a dormant quagmire to growing 50-60% per year in a matter of weeks. It used to be that in 2011-2012,the big 3’s total IP portfolio sells for <5 mm USD COMBINED, in 2015, this number jumped to at least 30-40 mm USD, and as of today, these numbers catapulted well into the 100’s of millions. There is little doubt in any industry participants’ minds – and we have spoken to plenty – that this is the best time for Chinese music since the dawn of the century.
For all like-minded investors, the question becomes if there is a good way to play this, and the options are somewhat limited as you may imagine. None of the music platforms are public – not that we want to invest in them – and we believe the best way is via the IP content owners – aka the record labels. However, the big 3 are either not public (Warner) or within complex structures with China being tiny (UMG within Vivendi + Sony Music within Sony), Japanese and Korean labels won’t get to fully participate given the natural language barrier, A-share list Co are not only of low quality, are hard-to-access for normal investors, but are expensive in our opinion. It begs the question – does there exist a high-quality IP-content pure-play 100% exposed to Chinese music industry growth trading at reasonable / cheap valuation?
Enter HiM International Music (Stock code: 8446) trading in Taiwan. It is an independent record label and artist management that holds agency contracts with 47 artists and perpetual copyright to 1,700+ songs recordings + 1,300+ lyrics & melodies. The company currently has 150 mm USD Market Cap, 105 mm USD EV, and 2.0 mm USD average 12 month daily traded value. Via HiM International, a micro-cap listed in Taiwan, one gets to own perpetual rights to Chinese music stars of comparable stardom to Taylor Swift, Ed Sheeran, John Legend, etc. in an industry that is exploding for <10x 2018 ex-cash & investment property P/E growing 20-30% with a catalyst to deliver 40%+ EPS growth
We believe this is one of the most overlooked and mispriced assets in the market. Based on our analysis, the stock can double in 1 year with the potential of becoming a 5-10 bagger over the next 5-10 years, with a strong case of being acquired in short order.
Favorable backdrop: As the Chinese government increasingly cracks down on piracy and the streaming revolution further accelerates, the Chinese music industry has been growing at a 35-40% CAGR over the last 5 years and is set for a 25-30% CAGR over the next 5 years.
No Pure-Play in market except HiM: music platforms account for tiny portions of Tencent (OTC:TCEHY), BABA (NYSE:BABA), and NetEase (NASDAQ: NTES). Vivendi (OTC:VIVHY)’s UMG is US/EU focused and a complicated SOTP story, Japanese and Korean labels enjoy only minute benefits. HiM is the only pure-play.
Premier Asset: HiM is widely considered to be one of the elite companies in Chinese music with one of the highest regarded management teams and ranks just behind the global majors (Sony, Universal, and Warner) in Chinese market share.
Low Valuation: ~10.2x 2018 ex-cash & invest. prop P/E vs. 19-20x ex-cash 2018 P/E for Asian & US/EU comps. If HiM maintains current market share (historically a market share taker), HiM could appreciate >4.5 x by 2025 based on industry growth even with no multiple expansion and 5-6x+ with multiple expansion.
Clear Catalyst: IP Contract renewals in Mar 2018 to drive 50%+ increase in 2018 pro-forma EPS vs. 2017 YE, translating to 6% dividend yield based on guided payout ratio. Recent IP-licensing comp by a competitor can point to as much as tripling or quadrupling 2017 EPS. HiM is a trophy asset for Chinese media and Internet companies (BABA, Tencent, NetEase, etc.) who view music as a key driver of customer traffic/loyalty on their platforms.
Point 1: Secular, exponential growth of the Chinese music industry
China used to be a market where piracy ran rampant and no music label was able to collect much of anything – the industry as a whole ran at measly <100 mm USD run-rate for the most part of the 21st century. Since late 2014, however, the Chinese government put anti-piracy enforcement for online music front-and-center. This coupled with the step-up of investments from leading Chinese tech companies catapulted industry growth. The policy enforcement and sizable investment by large tech companies since 2014/15 mark a significant paradigm change for the Chinese music industry, and the age of piracy is no-more – and the industry had been growing at 30-40%+ ever since.
Importantly, as of 2015, despite having 2x more online music users, China’s total digital music spending is 1/6th of the US even after adjusting for the disposable income differences between the two countries. Compared to other entertainment industries such as games and movies where China runs pari-passu to the US, the size of Chinese music industry pales in comparison.
From various ways of triangulating the industry’s growth, we believe the Chinese music industry will continue this 30-40% growth rate for years to come:
Expert 1 – Leading Chinese tech company’s music platform: “Pointing to ~30%+ revenue growth for the industry with 20%+ paid user growth & 10%+ pricing over the next 3-5 years at least”.
Expert 2 – Record company exec: “Taiwan…could reach 15-20%, Mainland should reach 25-30% at least”.
Expert 3 – Record company exec: “There is explosive growth ... Everyone knows it's inflecting up massively”.
Expert 4 – Record company exec: “China is leaping the download age…we are too big and under growing the market a bit, but our internal estimate is 25% growth over the next 3-5 years”
Goldman Sachs, Oct 4, 2016: “China offers a useful case study of a large, under-monetized music market plagued by piracy where streaming is opening up sizeable new monetization avenues at a time when the value of IP is being increasingly recognized…We see significant growth potential”
iResearch, 2016 Music Industry Report: “Expect 52% / 46% / 37% Industry revenue growth in 16/17/18”
Point 2: Premier asset primed to ride the industry tailwind
For those that didn’t grow up in China, we believe that HiM’s current roster commands similar mindshare and presence in Taiwan and mainland China to the tier 1-2 stars in the US.
A few more impressive data points about them:
HiM’s 2015 release “A Little Happiness” sang by Hebe Tien is the 1st and only Chinese music video on YouTube with > 100 mm views. It lasted 249 days as #1 on Taiwan’s largest music streaming platform and had been re-sung in other language versions across Asia.
In 2015-2016, HiM’s top star Hebe Tien is one of the most searched singers on Baidu.
HiM’s other up-and-coming star, Yoga Lin, is widely considered to be the next top pop star when it comes to vocals, music creativity, and handling.
HiM had been hosting the only melody and lyrics competition in all of China for the past 13 years.
In 2005-2010, HiM boasted the most popular girl AND boy band in China (SHE & Fahrenheit)
Industry contacts we spoke with also think very highly of them:
Expert 1 - Record label founder: “A culture and content leader in Taiwan….a company to look up to for the Taiwanese entertainment industry”.
Expert 2 – Record label exec: “Probably one of the top record companies in China with highly professional infrastructure … multi-faceted approach to development, good at managing artists’ career”.
Expert 3 – Leading streaming platform exec: “HiM in the Chinese music world, it's an extremely powerful force…top 4 quality IP portfolio and some of the strongest bench of songwriters & lyric writers in Chinese music”.
Aside from the profile, HiM’s financial numbers are equally as impressive. Despite the challenging environment prior to 2015, HiM had an impressive record of compounding organically and improving monetization, all with limited CapEx and negative working capital. Importantly, working capital is a cash-source for HiM as company grows, and HiM runs on negative equity if we strip out excess cash & investment property so ROE is infinite.
A bit more about the numbers -- 60%+ of HiM’s gross profit dollars come from IP licensing and is currently 70% semi-fixed (subject to renewals), leading to a strong recurring base.
It’s also rare that it’s a management team that understands what’s important -- we believe HiM is singularly focused on maximizing shareholder value, as evident by managements’ comments around license economics, growth, the dividend, and M&A policy.